Ethiopia Making Constitutional Interpretation: Prominent Politician Calls It ‘a Joke’


The Council of Constitutional Inquiry (CCI)  held a Televised discussion of legal experts last Saturday and Monday to decide over the fate of a national poll which, according to the constitution, was supposed to be held at the end of this Ethiopian year. Now it has to be postponed because of the risk of COVID-19 pandemic.


According to the constitution of Ethiopia article 54, the house of peoples representatives parliament is the law-making organ of the government whose members are “elected by people for a term of five years.” On the other side, article 93 of the constitution gives the Council of Ministers the power to declare a state of emergency when an epidemic occurs.


The country got into a constitutional crisis as it failed to provide a clear answer for what should be done if the term of the parliament ends during the state of emergency.


The CCI has been established by the Federal constitution to give professional support to the House of the Federation which has been given the power to interpret the Federal constitution.


Most political parties agreed on the postponing of the election, but for Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which insisted on holding the poll by following recommended health precautions. While other parties have differences on the way, Abiy Ahmed’s administration chose to postpone the election.


The government had proposed dissolving the parliament, declaring a state of emergency, amending the constitution, and inquiring constitutional interpretation, as options to delay the poll. And later on, the parliament approved the constitutional interpretation option causing controversy among the political elites.


Meaza Ashenafi, President of the Federal Supreme Court, chaired the hearing sessions of the CCI at the Sheraton Addis Hotel. And legal experts, lawyers, and legal scholars provided their opinions on the way of solving legitimacy issues.


Jawar Mohamed, one of the prominent activists and currently a member of Oromo Federalist Congress, called the hearing ‘a joke.’ On his Facebook post on Saturday, Jawar said the members of CCI lack impartiality since they have participated in the formulation of the “ruling party’s four options [election delaying] proposal.”


About the experts who presented their recommendation Jawar said that ” they are chosen from the same social group.” He added some of the lawyers on the hearing ‘participated in the drafting of the proposal.’ Also, Jawar insisted that constitutional interpretation is not the right way, and according to him, CCI is not willing to hear alternative views from the opposition


On the other side, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in his press release on May 6, said that his government could remain in power for longer “by simply declaring an emergency proclamation or through amending the constitution.” According to Abiy, the issue  brought to discussion showing the ‘willingness of the government to promote participatory democracy.’


The task of finding constitutional interpretation to solve the constitutional issue the country has faced now is arguably the heaviest task of CCI ever since its establishment.